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De-"Q'ing" BBQ

EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 08:03 AM


I smoked a pork butt for tacos yesterday, using my own Southwestern/Mexican style rub, and prepared a tomatillo and chile pepper salsa. I wanted to get away from the standard BBQ flavor profile for a while and experience some of those wonderful tacos that I've had before that have some smokiness combined with super tender meat.

The pork came out perfectly cooked, and with the salsa in a corn tortilla the tacos were great. But the flavor was still standard Southern style 'Q, making the tacos taste like Southern-Mexican "fusion." Not what I was going for. I was planning on freezing some of the leftover pork to do a pork, hominy & green chile type stew in the Fall, but it will just taste like somebody dumped Carolina pulled pork into it.

Though I used apple wood and a bit of hickory, I suspect it was the hickory which gave the BBQ flavor I was trying to avoid. I would find some mesquite to use, but I think it would overwhelm the food, wouldn't it?

What do you suggest wood-wise, or what else would you do differently? Thanks!

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  1. Db Cooper RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 08:08 AM

    I think you are on the right path. Use more fruit woods like apple, cherry, and/or maple. Also, you may want to consider smoking it for a couple of hours and then finishing it in the oven? That might help knock down some of the "grill" flavor that you are looking to limit.

    Whatever you do, don't use Mesquite. It's WAY too strong a flavor for what you are going for. If I use mesquite at all these days, it's only for about 30 minutes (one chunk) because it can really impart a bitter flavor.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Db Cooper
      EarlyBird RE: Db Cooper Aug 13, 2012 08:22 AM

      Thanks, DB. I actually smoked it for four hours, then finished it for another four hours in the oven. Thanks for confirming my mesquite concerns. I wonder if oak would impart the flavor I'm looking for? I imagine some vaquero coming from the range back in the day eating these tacos, and want the bit of smokiness he would have tasted back then.

      1. re: EarlyBird
        Db Cooper RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 08:29 AM

        I think what is hurting you is the hickory. And really I'm not sure if Oak is the answer either. I know that Arthur Bryant's, the legendary BBQ shack in Kansas City, smokes their meats with a base of oak and then adds hickory.

        First, I'd eliminate the hickory. I'd then try just the oak. And you really only need to smoke it for two hours, three at the most. After that, you are really just wasting wood because the butt will have taken on all the smoke it can.

        1. re: Db Cooper
          Davwud RE: Db Cooper Aug 13, 2012 08:31 AM

          Wood wise I think maple or apple may do the trick.


          1. re: Db Cooper
            EarlyBird RE: Db Cooper Aug 13, 2012 08:49 AM

            Interesting about Arthur Bryant's, DB. I've been there (and up the street to Gates, which I marginally prefer), and didn't know what wood was used. Thanks for the information.

      2. s
        stormshadow RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 08:12 AM

        First off, let me say that I'm not a smoker :) I wish I was in this case, but I simply don't have the time.

        However, I know that if you're using hickory, or mesquite it really permeates that meat. Professional barbequers (think Myron Mixon) often employ fruit woods like peach, apple, and even cherry. But you said you're trying to veer away from this.

        In short, I believe you gotta get away from smoking, period if that's what you are aiming for. In this particular case, I'd suggest to take a page out of Rick Bayless (he came from a barbecuing family by the way). I found it odd that he actually BOILS, yes, BOILS his pork shoulder when it comes to making tacos. It's his complex sauces that give it flavor.

        Being as I don't have the time to smoke, I can say that I can get FANTASTIC results in a Dutch oven with a pork shoulder if I don't want to go the Rick Bayless route (and I often don't--the notion of boiling a perfectly good pork shoulder irks me).

        Good luck in your quest.

        3 Replies
        1. re: stormshadow
          EarlyBird RE: stormshadow Aug 13, 2012 08:31 AM

          I've actually done Mexican and Cuban style pork shoulder numerous times by just roasting or braising it in the oven and pulling it for tacos. I just wanted a bit of smokiness this time around, but didn't nail the flavor profile I was going for.

          Bayless boils pork? ! I did not know that. Nor did I know he came from a barbecuing family. Good ol' Rick Bayless.

          By the way, if you've got the time to do a long roasted pork butt, but not the time to tend to a smoker for 8 hrs, just smoke it for a few hours then put it in the oven at 250 for the remaining hours and go on with your life. The meat only taking smoke for the first two or three hours anyway.


          1. re: stormshadow
            porker RE: stormshadow Aug 13, 2012 09:11 AM

            I'd agree with stormshadow here (like the name, BTW).
            When I ran a restaurant, I'd boil entire legs for pulled pork. Of course when put that way, it sounds pretty harsh....maybe "braising" sounds better?
            Anyways, I think only a touch of smoke (maybe an hour in the smoker) then on to a dutch oven or roasting pan with plenty of flavored, seasoned braising liquid (I'm thinking onion/garlic/cilantro/lime/etc and your rub seasonings).

            1. re: porker
              kattyeyes RE: porker Aug 13, 2012 09:19 AM

              I've been braising baby backs all summer--in beer--nothing else added to the liquid, all the seasonings are in the rub. You can finish them under the broiler or on a grill. I agree--braising sounds better than boiling. Plus braise vs. boil is all about low and slow vs. a quicker end result, no? Not to mention if it works for Rick Bayless...

          2. tommy RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 08:18 AM

            Unless I'm not understanding, it sounds like the smoke flavor wasn't pleasing in this context. So I'd make the shoulder without smoke next time, or with very litte. In fact I'd just start it on the smoker and finish in the oven or on the stove.

            1. Davwud RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 08:20 AM

              I would suggest using a thorough rub down with your rub and let it sit for a week. Let those flavours really get in there.
              Then smoke for a couple hours and then wrap in foil. It can go into the oven at that point.

              You may also want to fortify the S/W-Mex flavour with some more rub after it's pulled. If you make it with salt and it's salty enough, make a batch without. My BBQ seasoning (And most for that matter) don't contain salt or sugar. That way I can control them better. More seasoning doesn't mean more salt for instance.


              4 Replies
              1. re: Davwud
                EarlyBird RE: Davwud Aug 13, 2012 08:40 AM

                Good idea. I'm suspecting that hickory wood was the culprit, and just obliterated the Southwestern spice rub I used.

                1. re: EarlyBird
                  wyogal RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 08:42 AM

                  Exactly. I like to grill turkey legs and thighs, but I just use regular charcoal, indirect heat. Hickory has a very distinct flavor.

                  1. re: wyogal
                    EarlyBird RE: wyogal Aug 13, 2012 08:49 AM

                    So you add no wood when you grill the birds?

                    1. re: EarlyBird
                      wyogal RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 09:13 AM

                      Nope, just charcoal. usually the stuff on sale. And they turn out great!

              2. a
                acgold7 RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 09:19 AM

                I'm with those who say, for this application, don't smoke. I'd give the butt some grill time for just a little char, then do the actual cooking in the oven or crockpot.

                I generally hate Mesquite, especially for smoking -- it is just too acrid and bitter (I never understand those who call it sweet). But for a quick hot sear on the grill, it may be just what you need.

                Stormshadow, above, is absolutely right -- Bayless does call for boiling meat -- ick -- and that's the "authentic" way, which is depressing. This is why I no longer do things the authentic way. The idea of boiling a pork shoulder in plain water without seasoning and having to rely on a sauce to make it taste good depresses me. I tend to use a rich stock and flavorful aromatics, but if you use a crock pot or dutch oven you don't need to use anything at all other than maybe a nice rub. The natural juices will be enough (and unlike on a BBQ, you won't lose those juices through the grate).

                1. f
                  foreverhungry RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 09:42 AM

                  I'd agree with all that the smoke may be issue, but I wouldn't run to the oven just yet. It depends on what you're using to smoke, but if you have a barrel smoker, then just set the fire up with mostly coals on one side, and your pork on the other. You can easily control the mix of coal to wood (and I'd agree with using fruit-wood), so keep the whole operation outside. I think grilling over mostly coals will get you where you want. Personally, I can't bear the thought of running my oven during the summer for 4+ hours.

                  Or, you can do it the Rick Bayless way. But I think the problem there is that putting truly high quality Mexican sauces together is very difficult, because fresh and high quality ingredients can be tough to obtain. In those case, the meat can't just play second fiddle to the sauce, even if that is the authentic version (which would make sense). In that case, I think there has to be some flavor from grilling.

                  1. scubadoo97 RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 09:56 AM

                    Go with oak and don't over do it. Make sure you're getting thin blue smoke and not white smoke

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: scubadoo97
                      EarlyBird RE: scubadoo97 Aug 13, 2012 10:12 AM

                      Thanks. I only have white smoke for the very first 10 minutes or so when the kettle is settling down, otherwise it's classic thin blue smoke. Yeah, maybe it's oak. Oak is in Texas, and that's the kind of stuff I'm going for.

                      1. re: EarlyBird
                        scubadoo97 RE: EarlyBird Aug 13, 2012 01:29 PM

                        Just give it a hint of smoke. Sometimes I like a bit more smoke than other times. Sounds like this is one application where you want a hint of smoke to highlight it was cooked over wood but that's about it.

                        1. re: scubadoo97
                          EarlyBird RE: scubadoo97 Aug 13, 2012 03:08 PM

                          Yes, and having had some leftovers earlier today, I think I even over did it with the smoke wood. Should have used less, and used oak. Thanks.

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